XLVII. HOW A CLIENT
The reader, by now, will be quite familiar with Parsi
Rustomji's name. He was one who became at once my client
and co-worker, or perhaps it would be truer to say that
he first became co-worker and then client. I won his
confidence to such an extent that he sought and followed
my advice also in private domestic matters. Even when he
was ill, he would seek my aid, and though there was much
difference between our ways of living, he did not
hesitate to accept my quack treatment.
This friend once got into a very bad scrape. Though he
kept me informed of most of his affairs, he had
studiously kept back one thing. He was a large importer
of goods from Bombay and Calcutta, and not infrequently
he resorted to smuggling. But as he was on the best terms
with customs officials, no one was inclined to suspect
him. In charging duty, they used to take his invoices on
trust. Some might even have connived at the smuggling.
But to use the telling simile of the Gujarati poet
Akho, theft like quicksilver won't be suppressed, and
Parsi Rustomji's proved no exception. The good friend ran
post haste to me, the tears rolling down his cheeks as he
said: 'Bhai, I have deceived you. My guilt has been
discovered today. I have smuggled and I am doomed. I must
go to jail and be ruined. You alone may be able to save
me from this predicament. I have kept back nothing else
from you, but I thought I ought not to bother you with
such tricks of the trade, and so I never told you about
this smuggling. But now, how much I repent it!'
I calmed him and said: 'To save or not to save you is
in His hands. As to me you know my way. I can but try to
save you by means of confession.'
The good Parsi felt deeply mortified.
'But is not my confession before you enough?' he
'You have wronged not me but Government. How will the
confession made before me avail you?' I replied gently.
'Of course I will do just as you advise, but will you
not consult with my old counsel Mr.---? He is a friend
too,' said Parsi Rustomji.
Inquiry revealed that the smuggling had been going on
for a long time, but the actual offence detected involved
a trifling sum. We went to his counsel. He perused the
papers, and said: 'The case will be tried by a jury, and
a Natal jury will be the last to acquit an Indian. But I
will not give up hope.'
I did not know this counsel intimately. Parsi Rustomji
intercepted: 'I thank you, but I should like to be guided
by Mr. Gandhi's advice in this case. He knows me
intimately. Of course you will advise him whenever
Having thus shelved the counsel's question, we went to
Parsi Rustomji's shop.
And now explaining my view I said to him: 'I don't
think this case should be taken to court at all. It rests
with the Customs Officer to prosecute you or to let you
go, and he in turn will have to be guided by the Attorney
General. I am prepared to meet both. I propose that you
should offer to pay the penalty that fix, and the odds
are that they will be agreeable. But if they are not, you
must be prepared to go to jail. I am of opinion that the
shame lies not so much in going to jail as in committing
the offence. The deed of shame has already been done.
Imprisonment you should regard as a penance. The real
penance lies in resolving never to smuggle again.'
I cannot say that Parsi Rustomji took all this quite
well. He was a brave man, but his courage failed him for
the moment. His name and fame were at stake, and where
would he be if the edifice he had reared with such care
and labour should go to pieces?
'Well, I have told you,' he said, 'that I am entirely
in your hands. You may do just as you like.'
I brought to bear on this case all my powers of
persuasion. I met the Customs Officer and fearlessly
apprised him of the whole affair. I also promised to
place all the books at his disposal and told him how
penitent Parsi Rustomji was feeling
The Customs Officer said: 'I like the old Parsi. I am
sorry he has made a fool of himself. You know where my
duty lies. I must be guided by the Attorney General and
so I would advise you to use all your persuasion with
'I shall be thankful,' said I, 'if you do not insist
on dragging him into court.'
Having got him to promise this, I entered into
correspondence with the Attorney General and also met
him. I am glad to say that he appreciated my complete
frankness and was convinced that I had kept back nothing.
I now forget whether it was in connection with this or
with some other case that my persistence and frankness
extorted from him the remark: 'I see you will never take
a no for an answer.'
The case against Parsi Rustomji was compromised.He was
to pay a penalty equal to twice the amount he had
confessed to having smuggled. Rustomji reduced to writing
the facts of the whole case, got the paper framed and
hung it up in his office to serve as a perpetual reminder
to his heirs and fellow merchants.
These friends Rustomji warned me not to be taken in by
this transitory contrition. When I told Rustomji about
this warning he said: 'What would be my fate if I